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Electronic Origami 

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Electronic Origami 

Written By: Ken Denmead 



CircuitWriter pen (1) 

Coin cell battery (1) 

Ruler (1) 



Paper (1 sheet) 

Paper clip (1) 


Origami is an artistic tradition dating back at least 1,300 years (and probably more), and 
while it's steeped in the naturalistic aesthetic tradition of Japanese culture, it has held an 
appeal for geeks as well. Perhaps it's because of the link to Japanese culture. After all, 
geeks have a passion for manga and mecha and all things ninja. Maybe geeks appreciate 
the balance of the technical and the artistic. Case in point: I was the "president" of the 
Origami Club in my high school, and all the members were my buddies from playing D&D 
and AP Physics. 

Origami can be something really fun to share with your kids, especially when they are 
younger. It's about the least expensive art/craft you can try, and the creativity and 
imagination it involves -turning blank, 2-dimensional paper into fun, 3-dimensional forms - 
is potentially quite nurturing. And if your kids balk at the idea that folding paper into animals 
can be cool, just tell them to think of it as though they are making their own action figures, 
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Electronic Origami 

and promise you'll act out Pokemon battles with them when they're done. 

But how can we make origami even geekier? 

I was browsing the aisles at my local electronics warehouse one day, looking at parts and 
pieces, and I noticed a very interesting item called a CircuitWriter pen. If you remember 
those glitter pens that everyone loved to use in junior high school, this is the same idea. But 
the material is actually silver, in a suspension of acetone, resin, and a few other chemicals 
with big names. The idea is that you can use it to draw basic electrical circuits or fix broken 
traces without having to etch or solder; the pen's ink works just like the thin conductive 
material on a circuit board, and will conduct electricity. 

And that got me to thinking: what else could you draw on to make a circuit? What about 
paper? Could you draw a circuit on paper, and say, run an LED from a battery? And, if you 
could do that, what could you then do with the paper? All of which led me to this project. 

Step 1 — Electronic Origami 



• This project will introduce you to 
the electronic origami concept -- 
we're going to keep things simple 
and build a box with an LED. If 
you're creative with this idea, you 
could come up with faux tea-lights 
for decoration, or just emergency 

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Electronic Origami 

Step 2 

• Build your box, based on the 
instructions in the illustration. Use 
a straightedge to get good creases 
on your folds. 

Step 3 

> We have to identify where the path 
of the circuit lines are going to go, 
and this will take a little careful 
tracing. Take a pencil, and draw a 
small dot at the center of the inside 
bottom of your box to identify 
where the LED is going to sit. Now 
pick one of the corner sides of the 
box that will be where the battery 
slips in. You'll notice there's a 
pocket of paper on either side. 
Insert the tip of your pencil about 
halfway from the top of the corner, 
and rub it around a bit so that you 
make marks on both sides of the 
paper in the folded pocket. 

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Electronic Origami 

Step 4 

• Now come the electronics! Carefully unfold just the corner side of your box where you 
made the marks by lifting the adjacent top flaps and expanding the folded-over pockets at 
the corner. Where you slipped your pencil in, you should now see two distinct marks, one 
on either side of a fold - when folded, they face each other. These will be the contact 
points for either side of the battery. 

Step 5 

• Use the CircuitWriter Pen to trace out the two circuit lines. At each of the contact points on 
the corner, draw a pea-sized circle of the conductive ink, and then draw a line to down to 
the floor, and in towards the center. At a spot just to the side of the center, make a good 
pea-sized circle of circuit material to end your line. These will be your positive and 
negative "wires." They should not cross one another, but otherwise the path from corner 
battery contact to the floor where the LED will connect is up to you. Just keep it relatively 

Step 6 

• Let the page dry (use a hair dryer 
or fan for quicker drying). Check 
the lines for continuity and fix any 
thin spots. Once the page is 
completely dry, you can do a test 
run by holding the LED with its 
leads touching the contact points in 
the middle of the page, and then 
taking your battery and carefully 
folding it into the crease between 
the other two contacts. Make sure 
you have your positive battery side 
feeding to your positive LED lead. 
If all is right, you should see light. 

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Electronic Origami 

Step 7 

• Fold your corner back together. Looking inside the box, you can see the circuits you 
traced. Take your LED and, using a little tape, affix it to the center of the box with one lead 
on each contact. Where the circuit lines vanish into the corner folds, slip your CR-2032 
battery into the fold, positive side to the positive contact, and negative to negative. To get 
the battery to fit well in the pocket, you may need to use an X-Acto knife to slit the paper 
along the adjacent fold so you can then slip the battery in from the outside under the top 
flap. Then hold it in place with a paper clip. 

Step 8 

• The LED will light up, and you have 
built your first piece of electronic 

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Electronic Origami 

Step 9 

• This project is an excerpt from Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for 
Dads and Kids to Share, Ken Denmead, Gotham Books. The website for the book can be 
found here . 

• Evil Mad Scientist Labs did an electronic origami project back in 2008. You can see their 
version here . They use an iron-on foil circuit trace, but they also have subsequently written 
about creating "soft circuits" using the CircuitWriter Pen. 

is document was last generated on 201 2-1 1 -03 01 :38:25 AM. 

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